The Missionary, the Cannibal and the King

The Missionary, the Cannibal and the King.

Chapter One

I am Waikato, oldest son of Rakau, ariki of Kaihiki and cousin to Hongi Hiki, paramount chief of the mighty Ngapuhi iwi.

I was five years old when I saw my first white man. 

Hone, a young man from our village who had been over the hill to Rangihoua on an errand, had come running back to Kaihiki crying out, ‘The Pakehas have returned!  Their ship is in the bay!’

I already knew of the Pakehas of course and, twice before in my young life, I had seen their wondrous, white-winged vessels in the distance as they sailed past our little cove.  Indeed, back in those days there were still many kaumatua who claimed to remember Captain Cook’s astonishing appearance in Ipipiri – the vast, island-studded inlet that he named the “Bay of Islands”.  Now, thirty years after Kapene Kuki’s first voyage of discovery, the Pakeha ships had begun to arrive in the sheltered anchorage at Rangihoua five or six times a year.

Whenever these towering apparitions appeared, all the villages within a day’s walk of the cove would suddenly become silent and empty as their residents flocked to the cove to trade for the pale-skinned visitors’ incredible treasures.  This day was no different and so, on hearing Hone’s announcement, the majority of our people promptly set off on the well-worn trail that zigzagged up the heavily-forested incline behind Kaihiki.  They went with great excitement – chattering, laughing and singing – and loaded down with baskets of potatoes, wooden carvings, finely-woven cloaks and anything else that might possibly take the Pakeha sailors’ fancy.  My father had his mana to maintain however and so Rakau summoned fifty of his warriors and ordered them to launch Te Paraoa – the large, ornately-carved war canoe that is the pride of the Hikutu hapu.  I had been too young to go to Rangihoua when the Pakeha had visited on previous occasions but, this time, Rakau decided that I should accompany him.

I can remember that short journey around the coast as clearly as if it was yesterday – my first time out in our waka taua and my first visit to Rangihoua.  As I looked back towards Kaihiki, clinging to the narrow strip of level land between towering forest and gleaming blue cove, I thought then – as I still do now – that it must surely be the most beautiful place in the world.  Our warriors chanted loudly and drove deep and hard with their paddles though and Te Paraoa surged southeast with all the speed of the giant, toothed whale after which she was named.  Kaihiki swiftly disappeared from sight behind us as we rounded the point and then, as we headed northwards along the other side of the peninsula, a cluster of small islands appeared ahead.  We closed rapidly with these but then, as we were about to pass through the archipelago, Rakau ordered his men to a slower speed.

‘There are many rocks and reefs in the waters between these islands, Waikato,’ my father told me.  ‘When the sea is calm and the tide is as low as it is today, they are easy enough to see but, if you ever have to come through here at night or in rough weather, you will have only your memory to guide you.  Watch the way that we take carefully.  If you are to command Te Pararoa one day, you must learn each channel perfectly.’

I dutifully paid attention as Rakau navigated through the seaweed-fringed passage.  I was soon distracted however, by some extensive fortifications that I saw had been built on one of the larger islands.

‘Is that Te Pahi’s fortress, Papa?’

‘Ae, that’s Te Puna,’ Rakau confirmed.  ‘The ariki taungaroa keeps most of his arsenal and all his taonga there under permanent guard.  Our mighty leader actually lives over on the coast most of the time – and I’m sure that he’ll have his waka out on Rangihoua Bay already.  If he ever needs to though, Te Pahi can quickly bring all his people to Te Puna.  No one can touch him once he’s behind those walls, Waikato – the pa is impregnable!’

I did not know much about the art of war at that young age but I had no doubt that my father was right.  With a full force of warriors behind them, the stout palisades ringing the steep slopes of the island would easily hold back an army of any size.

‘They say that Te Pahi keeps a special treasure in a storehouse there,’ Rakau said, lowering his voice.  ‘A particularly wilful daughter that he has imprisoned until a suitable husband can be found for her.’

Te Pahi was paramount chief of most of the Bay of Islands and, as such, his daughter’s hand had significant political value.  Nevertheless, and even knowing the ariki taungaroa’s reputation as a ruthless disciplinarian, it seemed to me that only an unusually cold and cruel man would lock his own child away in such a place.

Just then, a thunderclap boomed out of the clear, blue sky and I shivered despite the warm sunshine.  Looking back on the fate that awaited both Te Pahi and me on that island, I know now that what I experienced that day was a God-given moment of prescience.  I was but a child at the time though and, despite being descended from a long line of tohungas, I was too young to understand the divine warning…     

Rangihoua Bay opened up before us as we emerged back into open water and, despite it having been described to me many times, I was still surprised by the height of the bluff that towered above the middle of the cove.   The several lines of wooden palisades encircled the hill’s summit in the same manner as at Te Pahi’s island stronghold, giving the mainland fortress a similarly invulnerable appearance.   Perhaps two hundred houses clung to a criss-crossing maze of terraces beneath the pa that ran all the way down to the foreshore.  The biggest crowd of people I had ever seen was waiting on the beach there but I paid scant attention to the throng, my eyes were irresistibly drawn to the towering apparition of the three-masted sailing ship anchored just offshore.  A fleet of canoes surrounded the Pakeha vessel and, as we paddled in to join the melee, I saw what I knew must be Te Pahi’s waka taua in its midst – a mighty, hundred-warrior war canoe that easily dwarfed my own hapu’s pride and joy.  Its huge, carved prow was the size of a small house and its lattice-like stern post, trailing bright red, feather streamers, towered at least twice the height of a man.  A tall figure stood slightly apart from the other warriors amidships, his proud bearing leaving no doubt in my mind that the ariki taungaroa himself had come to oversee proceedings.
Most of the smaller canoes about us carried goods of some sort or another, their crews hoping to beat those waiting on the beach to the prime trading opportunities.  There was a terrific din of people greeting each other and calling out to the Pakeha ship to be allowed to come alongside but we were soon informed that the visitors would permit no one to board.

‘They fired their canons over our heads when first we paddled out to meet them,’ the skipper of a nearby waka yelled across to us, ‘and if anyone comes closer than fifty paces, the Pakehas point their guns at them and yell angry words.’

‘Even the canoes with girls?’ my father asked.

I was intrigued to notice that many of the craft around us carried young, naked women aboard.

‘Even the girls,’ the man replied with a disbelieving shake of his head.  ‘This must be a new ship – I’ve not seen her here before.’

My father grunted and nodded his understanding – Rangihoua might have become a regular port of call for the whalers and sealers working the South Seas Fishery but it was always a tense occasion when a vessel arrived for the first time.  Indeed, our people had already learned not to greet the visiting sailing ships with the massed warrior displays and war chants that protocol demanded, such welcomes having drawn deadly responses from musket and cannon in the past.
I craned my head back to look up at the vessel’s masts towering above me, her yards silhouetted against the blue sky like the arms of some giant, mythical creature.  Then I lowered my gaze to the press of men behind the ship’s gunwale and saw the sinister gleam of sunlight on cutlass, canon and musket.

They were hard men, those Pakeha who came among us in those early years – hard men and yet fearful.  Aotearoa might have had a reputation as a destination where plentiful supplies and beautiful, willing women could be had for a pittance, but it was equally renowned for its fierce warriors and their taste for human flesh. 

Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity aboard the ship and I saw that one of several, wide-beamed canoes that she carried high above her waterline had filled with men and was being lowered to the sea via an extraordinary system of ropes.  Impressed as I was by this feat, it was nothing compared to my astonishment as the boat began to pull away from its mother ship – not only did its crew wield paddles fully twice as long as they were tall, but they did so sitting facing back the way they had come.

‘Do they have eyes in the back of their heads, Father?’ I asked.

Rakau gave a grim chuckle.

‘Don’t worry, Son.  They are not taipo – even if they do look like creatures from below.  See – they have a man in the stern that steers with an oar just as we do.  They also have some sort of small cannon positioned forward, which is something I’ve not seen before…’

The gleaming metal tube, mounted on a stand in the bow, was attended by a scowling crewman who slowly swivelled the weapon’s muzzle left and right.  Our canoes fell back before this obvious threat and then, realising that our visitors intended to conduct their business ashore, everyone began paddling madly for the beach.  This stampede took place with such urgency that, by the time the Pakeha boat neared land, most of the wakas had already been pulled up in the beach and their crews had become a part of the milling, shore-side throng.  I followed Rakau as he leapt ashore and, using his mana, shoved his way through to the front of the crowd.  Thus, I had a clear view as the white men landed.

There was sudden, eerie silence as the whaleboat’s keel ground on the shore.  The man with the swivel canon remained at his post but his crewmates quickly shipped their oars and picked up the pistols and muskets that had been lying beside them on the thwarts.  My people were desperate for the trading to commence but they stayed silent and held themselves back, knowing the carnage that a sudden sound or false move might precipitate.  Death hovered in the warm air as the inhabitants of two distant worlds eyed each other nervously, yet each side hungered for that which the other could provide.  We already knew the desires of the Pakeha of course, and we had little doubt that the sailors carried with them the goods we so wanted – cloth, coloured feathers, beads, iron nails, fish hooks and, if we could but find the price, axe heads

Still, the tense silence stretched on. 

The man behind the cannon looked slowly around our circle and I was intrigued to see that his eyes were the same colour as blue sea over white sand.  Then his gaze met mine and, to my utter astonishment, he winked.  I think that I gasped aloud in surprise but no one paid me any attention – the white man had begun to speak loudly but calmly in his own language.  It sounded like stuttering gibberish to me but I heard the words ‘Te Pahi’ repeated several times and it was clear that our visitors had been told, ‘When you get to Rangihoua, ask for Te Pahi.  He is the high chief there and he is friendly.’ 

The crowd parted and the ariki tungaroa himself, accompanied by a younger man whom I guessed to be one of his sons, strode into the space between the silently straining crowd and the boat.  Te Pahi would have been in his mid-forties then and well-established as one of the dominant chiefs in the Bay of Islands.   He was undoubtedly a shrewd tactician and a brave warrior but, just as importantly, his rise to power had also been facilitated by a fortuitous combination of bloodlines.  His father had been both Ngati Awa – the original tribe of area – and Ngapuhi, the powerful iwi that had since conquered almost all the Bay.  Te Pahi was also related to my own Hikutu hapu and this sat well with my people as, outside our immediate whanau, our strongest bond is with our sub-tribe.  Indeed, while the Ngapuhi might be a numerous, robust iwi, our many hapu have often quarrelled amongst themselves without the unifying presence of a major war.
Te Pahi bore himself with all the haughtiness to be expected of the ariki taungaroa and wore about his shoulders a precious cape densely decorated with the red feathers of the kaka.  His face was almost completely covered by his moko, the swirling, black tattoos declaring his proud lineage for all to see, and he carried in his belt a club of the finest greenstone.  He spoke some words to his son – Matara, I would later learn – and this youth, in turn, addressed the Pakehas in their own language.  There were several brief exchanges back and forth, during which the sailors visibly relaxed, and then Te Pahi turned to address us.

The Pakeha are ready to begin trading!’ he declared.  ‘They are under my protection while their ship is in the Bay and I will kill anyone who harms them.  They have asked to take some girls on board, but they have promised to treat them well and return them to shore before the ship departs again.’

There was a general, joyous surge towards the boat and it is there that my memory of that first encounter ends.

My world has been turned on its head in the thirty-odd years since that day but, back then, the old ways still held sway.  Thus, on the first summer solstice following my ninth birthday, my father despatched me to Pakinga Pa to begin my military training, an event that I had waited for all my young life.  Along with two lower-born lads of the same age from my hapu, I boarded a canoe at the crack of dawn and, with barely a glance back at Kaihiki, we took our turns at the paddles along with the rest of the crew as her skipper set a course westwards.  After several hours, we reached the head of the Kerikeri inlet, the westernmost extremity of the Bay and the site of a large village and pa.  This was the territory of Te Hotete, another powerful Ngapuhi chief and a strong ally of Te Pahi, and here we met another dozen or so young, Ngapuhi cousins who were also heading to Pakinga.  The people of the village, well-accustomed to this annual pilgrimage of youthful, would-be warriors, generously gave us food and water – but then teased us mercilessly as our payment.

‘Look at these soft young bodies.  Pakinga will toughen them up!’

‘Do you miss your mummies yet, boys?  You will when you get to Pakinga!’

‘Enjoy the food, lads.  It’ll be a long time before you eat during daylight again!’

We wasted no time in setting off again – partly because we knew we still had a long journey ahead of us and partly out of a desire to escape our mocking relatives.  I quickly established that I was the highest-born in our group and declared myself leader although, in truth, we were all headed for the same place and, the trail to Pakinga being a well-worn one, there little danger that we would become lost.

The path took us out of the village, skirted the walls of the pa and then meandered through a patchwork of fields where the foliage of kumara, taro and yam gleamed greenly in the summer sun.  It wasn’t long however, before forest ringing with birdsong closed in over our heads, providing welcome shade against Ra’s ascent. 

Although we encountered several clearings and villages along the way, I did not permit our band to stop until after midday, when we reached a settlement beside a small lake called Waingaro.  It was now very warm and I did not hesitate leading my detachment in a charge into the welcome, cooling waters of the lake.  Again, we were offered food by the people of the village here but, just as at Kerikeri, our hosts’ generosity came at a price.

‘That’s a cute backside you’ve got there, boy.  Wait ‘till old Hohepa gives it a few lashes with his stick!’

‘Better Hohepa’s stick than Ropata’s!’

‘Ae!  That’s an altogether different sort of stick!’

We left their laughter behind us and followed the trail south until the expansive waters of Lake Omapere came into sight about mid-afternoon.  Again, I led my troop in to cool off and, from our bathing spot, we were able to see Okuratope Pa on a nearby knoll – another Ngapuhi stronghold and Hotete’s headquarters.   I was tempted to visit the fortified settlement but, not knowing precisely how much further it was to Pakinga, and being concerned that we might not reach our destination before dark, we passed it by.  As it turned out however, we made it to Pakinga in plenty of time, arriving at the pa gates a good two hours before sundown.

While most pas are sited upon steep hills and cliff-tops, the ancient fortress of Pakinga had been established atop a relatively gentle knoll that rose only a small height above the surrounding plain.  While this made the pa less defendable than many, the trade-off was the large, level area within its walls that comfortably accommodated the residents’ dwellings and the dormitories and drill ground of the Ngapuhi Military Academy.  It was here, along with more than a hundred Ngapuhi lads of a similar age, that I began my apprenticeship in mau rakau – the art of warfare.

Those were good days!

Tukariri, God of War, ruled the land and the only advantage one iwi had over another lay in the ferocity and the bravery of its warriors.  War was the highest calling of my people and the only honourable way a tribe could expect to advance itself – more territory, more women, more slaves – was at the expense of its neighbours. 

At Pakinga, we ate before dawn, went all day with only water, and ate again only after sunset.  The training was slow and painstaking, the discipline ruthless, and I quickly learned that, within the pa walls, there was to be no concession to family rank for me or for anyone else.  

There were three other groups of youths at the pa, each of them at a different stage of their four-year induction and, while these older boys completely ignored us first-years, we watched enviously as they went drilled with spear and club.  Our envy had a keen edge because, for almost a year, the only weapon we were permitted was the poi.

Can you imagine that – an army of young, would-be warriors made to sing, dance and twirl balls on the end of a string like a giggling flock of kohine?

A young warrior has to learn to do what he is told though, regardless of how humiliating or degrading the task might be.  Instant obedience was the only permissible response to an instructor’s order and even the slightest hesitation was enough to summon a stinging lash from the staff that each of them carried.  Truly serious transgressions of discipline could see a student dismissed and sent back to his hapu and, to my shame, this is what happened to a boy from my own village – a large, greedy lad who was found to have stolen food from the storehouse and then, even worse, eaten it while Ra was still high in the sky.  Of course, a man who can never be a warrior is even less use to his hapu than a woman or a slave and so, when the errant youth returned home, his shame was absolute.  Shunned by everyone including his own parents, he lasted only a few days at Kaihiki before he ran away, never to be seen again.  Perhaps he joined another iwi – although I can’t imagine why anybody would want such an outcast.  I prefer to think that he did the only honourable thing and took his own life.

The poi dancing at Pakinga seemed to last for an eternity and every one of us longed for the day when we would be able to hold a real weapon.  Those long hours of coordinated exercise had purpose beyond teaching us discipline however – our developing young bodies were gaining strength and suppleness, and our feet had begun to learn the ritual steps of combat.  There are many moves that a young warrior must assimilate if he is to survive in battle – from the slow, crouching dance of the tuatara lizard to lightning quick leap of the tui bird – and it is a tradition of my people that these sequences are “taught from the feet up”.  Even when our teachers had satisfied themselves that we had learned the essential footwork however, there was still no relief from the endless poi drill.  Instead, our taskmasters marched us about the surrounding countryside so that we practiced on different types of terrain.  Over and over again we drilled – in soft sand, in knee-deep water, in mud, on round boulders, on sharp rocks – learning to move as one, regardless of the footing.

Finally, as our testicles began to sprout hair and our voices began to deepen, we were allowed to begin training with something akin to proper weapons.  Each dawn, regardless of the weather, our instructors would form us into two ranks in the fortress’s courtyard and in this formation, for hour after hour and week after week, we drilled with simple wooden staves.  We were excited by this progression though, because we knew that we had begun to learn the many sweeps, thrusts and blocks of the taiaha – the fire-hardened spear that is a warrior’s main weapon.

Although our only opponents were the empty spaces in front of us, each of us had to show that he had learned each move perfectly before, as a group, we were allowed to progress to the next exercise – another long, slow process, but one that was designed to reinforce the bond of the fighting unit.  Then came the wonderful day when we began training against each other – our two ranks of combatants moved backwards and forwards across the drilling ground in a deadly, ritual dance.  Still, we had already begun our second year at Pakinga before we were allowed to use real taiahas at last.

Of course, the taiaha is not a warrior’s only weapon – we were also taught to use the longer spear, the powhenau, and the tewhatewha, that weapon which looks like a long-handled axe.  Every toa also carries broad-bladed, teardrop-shaped club in his belt and now, along with our taiaha training, we began to learn how to use these close-quarters weapons.  My favourite mere is the one that I inherited from my father’s family, a revered family taonga handed down through the generations.  It is made from the most precious variety of the green stone we call pounamu  and, when you hold it up to the sun, it glows as though alive.   Of course, such weapons are far too valuable for a common toa, so most of our warriors carry the simpler patu – war clubs fashioned from bone or wood – which are often ornately-carved and, without question, just as deadly. 
It seems pointless now ongi,that we should have devoted so many youthful years to training with such primitive weaponry but, back then, battles were still fought in the traditional manner.  In those days, worthy adversaries did not cower behind the walls of their pas with their women and children, but came out to challenge their enemies with a thundering haka.  Then, when battle proper commenced, the warriors of each side would seek out an opponent of similar mana so that the field became a swirling stage of matched pairs – each man pitted against an equal enemy. 

That has all gone now – the training at Pakinga, the rituals, the man-to-man combat on the battlefield.  There’s no point spending years training a toa to wield the patu or the taiaha, just to have him mown down from a distance by some slave’s son armed with a musket.  These days, any tribe that performs the puha – the war haka – simply presents a firearm-equipped adversary with a concentrated target.  These days, we give our youths a few weeks’ basic instruction with guns and then show them how to hide behind earthworks and creep through trenches like worms.  We’ve had to discard many of the old ways in order to survive but, sadly, that has included many honourable traditions.  My cousin Hongi and his friends the missionaries did more than anybody to bring those changes upon us but, to be fair, if it hadn’t been them, it would have been someone else…  

Of course, our time at Pakinga wasn’t entirely devoted to learning the art of war.  When we weren’t being taught how to kill our fellow men, we were being schooled in the supervision of our women and slaves in the fields or, more enjoyably, receiving instruction in fishing and hunting.  To learn to spear or snare fat, juicy birds like kereru, kaka and tui, or to harvest the bounty of our seas and lakes, was also a vital part of our education.  These were essential skills because, apart from rats, our dogs or the occasional slave, fish and fowl were our only source of fresh meat during peacetime.  

There was also another rite of passage that I went through at Pakinga and, like the taiaha training, it came at about the same time as my arrival at the age of puberty.

We were going through our drills one hot summer afternoon, the hot sun beating down and the dust rising in clouds around us, when out of the corner of my eye I saw an elderly man appear between two huts and approach one of our instructors.  Our teacher ordered us to a halt as soon as he became aware of the visitor and then greeted the old man with such deference that I knew he could only be a great chief or tohunga.  The two men conferred in low tones and then my instructor looked around until his eyes found mine.

‘You.  Waikato,’ he growled – as I have said, there was no concession to chiefly rank at Pakinga.  ‘This is Irirangi, tohunga ta moko.  Go with him now and do exactly as he tells you.’

My stomach turned over. As the son of two chiefly families, there was much that needed to be etched upon my face – my rank, my ancestry, my mana – and I knew that today would be the first of many days of great pain.  Still, I held my head high and even managed to return the envious looks of my companions with a smile.  They would all receive their own mokos eventually but, as the highest-born among them, I was to be first and mine was to be inscribed by the most renowned tattooist in the land.

The old man said nothing as he led me out of the pa and down the slope into the forest and, although he did not appear to have followed any obvious trail, we soon arrived in a sombre clearing at the feet of some towering kauri trees.  There stood a simple, open-sided shelter with a brown-stained mat covering its floor, the tohunga’s tools of trade waiting in a corner.  The old man maintained his silence but pointed imperiously to the mat where, obediently, I lay down to await my first trial of manhood.  Then the priest began to recite a karakia, sprinkling spirit-cleansing water over me from a large, wooden bowl as he did so.  I only vaguely heard the words of the incantation – something about the gods helping me to behave in a manly fashion during the trial to come.  My mind was too full of the pain I knew was coming and I was unable to tear my eyes away from the wooden mallet and the little bone chisels that would soon be carving into my flesh.

The tohunga finished his chant and then, quite tunelessly, he began sing the story of the ancient hero, Mataora, he who first brought the art of true moko back from the underworld.  As our people had used to do prior to that long-ago revelation, the holy man took up a paua shell of red kokowai paint and a fine brush.  He used these to trace the first patterns above my eyebrows, on the side of my nostrils and down the side of my mouth and then, having completed the designs to his satisfaction, he paused in his song and wordlessly offered me a short length of stick.  Knowing what was about to come I opened my mouth and, with a mirthless chuckle, the old man placed it cross-ways between my teeth. 
Tap, tap, tap.

Our women of rank are tattooed only on the lips, around the mouth and between the eyebrows.  A warrior’s face however, has eight distinct regions that receive the moko – and each one would require that I make a separate journey to that shadowy clearing and the little hut of suffering.
Tap, tap, tap.

The pain was every bit as savage as I had expected but I bit down hard on the stick and kept my eyes wide open, determined to make no sound.

Tap, tap, tap.

As the bone chisel gouged trails of fire through my flesh, I could feel my blood running down the side of my face and hear it dripping onto the mat.  The carving of my moko was an inevitable part of my transition into manhood however and I was determined to endure it with the courage expected of a young ariki.

Tap, tap, tap. 

After what seemed like an eternity of pain, the tohunga gave what I took to be a grunt of satisfaction and laid down his tools.  My relief was short-lived however for, after gently washing the blood off me, he then took up a different kind of chisel and, using this, he set about tapping burnt kauri gum into my open wounds.  

Tap, tap, tap.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this stage of the moko was somewhat less painful than the initial carving.  All the same, I was much relieved when the tohunga grunted again and sat back on his heels to admire his handiwork.

‘You have been brave, first-born son of Rakau,’ he said – and my chest swelled with pride at the compliment.

‘But now, Waikato, the worst part begins.’

With that, he stood up and began to leave.

‘What am I to do, Master?’ I asked him, the mere movement of my lips setting my wounds afire.

‘You must stay here and heal,’ he said.  ‘I will tell you when you can go back to Pakinga.’

And he was gone.

I knew that the letting of my blood had made me tapu – sacred and untouchable – but I had not realised that I would spend the next four days alone in that dreary clearing.  The tohunga ta moko did return later that day with an old cloak and a fresh gourd of water although, after inspecting my wounds and feeding me some liquid, mashed kumura through a wooden funnel, he departed again without a word.  He would return again at dawn and dusk each day while I remained in the shelter but, apart from these brief, largely-silent visits, I was alone with spirits of the forest.

Although the pain during the first day was unrelenting, by evening it had abated enough that, wrapping myself in the old cloak, I was able to sleep.  I awoke the next morning to find that my wounds had dried and scabbed over, becoming raw and tight so that the slightest twitch of my facial muscles summoning a searing, eye-watering response.  I lay there all day, trying to keep my face impassive and looking up to where, far above me, the mighty kauri trees continued their eternal task of holding up the sky.

The third day, when it came, seemed even worse than the carving of the moko itself.  My wounds had started to heal and, as they did so, they began to writhe with an itch that knew I must not scratch.  On top of that, it started to rain – the first wet weather in almost a month – and, although the shelter was weatherproof enough, the dampness summoned hundreds of mosquitos to add to my misery.  Fortunately, I found a ngaio tree on the edge of the clearing and, crushing its leaves and rubbing the poisonous juice over my body gave me some measure of relief.  I couldn’t apply the remedy to my new moko though and the insects harried my face with an insistence that almost drove me mad.

At last, on the dawn of the fifth day, the tohunga returned and, after chanting another karakia to lift my tapu, he ordered me back to my training at Pakinga. 

I returned among my as-yet unadorned cousins with great pride, the first marks of my chiefly mana now declared for all to see.  However, even at that young and untested stage of my life, there was much of my moko left to complete.  Again and again during that year, I returned to the hut of pain have more detail added – not just to my face but also to my buttocks and thighs.

Later on, when I returned home to Kaihiki, my splendid moko made me irresistible to the young, unmarried girls of my village.  It’s a good thing that a young man has almost boundless reserves of energy because every night – and even, sometimes, during the day – I would find this young woman or that coaxing me into the forest to enjoy her embraces.  Indeed, apart from the maidens of chiefly rank, I can’t recall a single girl of my village that I didn’t have my way with – and many of my kainga’s finest young warriors are sprung from my loins.

That was later on though – I was still a young, celibate trainee at Pakinga that I first met Hongi Hika.

Hongi was a son of Te Hotete, born and raised in a small village near Pakinga and, like his uncle, Te Pahi, my cousin was endowed with powerful family lines that would serve him well throughout in his life.  His father, for instance, was leader of the Te Uri o Hua hapu and, as I have already mentioned, a powerful Ngapuhi war chief.  His mother, Tuhikura, was of the Ngati Kahu, a robust tribe who live in Whangaroa Harbour to the north.  Additionally, Te Hotete’s dutiful attention to a harem of five fertile wives meant that Hongi was surrounded by a wealth of full brothers and sisters, half-siblings, cousins, uncles and aunties, all of whom provided links with many other hapu throughout the Ngapuhi domain.

By the time I was born – 1795 by the Pakeha calendar – Hongi had already graduated from his own training at Pakinga Pa and returned to his father’s village as a fully-fledged toa.  Te Hotete had been skirmishing with the people of the south-eastern Bay of Islands for some years, so Hongi was almost immediately able to gain valuable experience – as well as the beginnings of a fierce reputation – by participating in some of these minor engagements.  He was already in his late twenties when his father joined a group of Ngapuhi arikis, under the leadership of a paramount chief called Pokaia, to launch a major expedition into the territory of the Ngati Whatua, the powerful iwi occupying the land to the south of us.  It was on the very eve of joining this campaign that my cousin had me summoned before him...

Hongi had moved away from his father’s village and established his own base at Pakinga Pa while I was still completing my warrior training.   However, despite the fact that we shared the legendary Chief Rahiri as our great-great-great-grandfather, there had been no reason for our paths to cross.  After all, the Ngapuhi iwi is made up of over a hundred different hapu spread across a huge territory so that many of us have relatives we have never or only seldom met.  Hongi was also fifteen years older than me and already a powerful chief and, while I had occasionally seen him from a distance, there had been no reason for him to acknowledge an underling such as myself.  Then, well after dark one cool spring evening, one of my instructors came into the trainees’ dormitory and roused me from my exhausted sleep with the astonishing announcement that Hongi Hika required my presence.  Befuddled and vaguely fearful, I was marched before my relative.

Hongi and his loyal friend, Te Koikoi – a warrior whose reputation for bravery threatened to eclipse even my cousin’s – were sitting by a fire outside Hongi’s whare, both of them wrapped in thick cloaks against the chill of the evening.  I wore only my maro, the brief flax kilt doing little to keep me warm, but I must confess that I trembled as much from anxiety as I did from the cold.

‘You are Waikato, first son of Rakau?’ Hongi asked me.

I nodded, too nervous to trust my tongue.

‘You are cold,’ Hongi said, a small smile indicating that he knew, all too well, the real reason for my quaking.  ‘Come close and sit by the fire.  Koikoi, would you kindly bring my young cousin another cloak from my whare?’

Hongi’s companion gave me a glare that left no doubt as to what he thought about fetching for a young chiefling who had not even completed his warrior training.  However, ever obedient to his friend and commander, he rose and disappeared into the dwelling behind.

‘They tell me that you have a sharp mind,’ my cousin said as I took my place beside the fire.

I soon learned that, despite his ferocious reputation, Hongi usually spoke quite softly and only seldom raised his voice.  Anyone unfortunate enough to have mistaken this characteristic as a sign of a weakness had quickly found that my cousin preferred to let his actions speak for him.

To my young eyes, Hongi was a magnificent example of an ariki in his prime.  Like most high-born members of our iwi, he was careful to shave his face regularly with shards of seashell so that his moko was fully visible and now, in the flickering firelight, its dense, intricate pattern made his face appear almost black.  He was not a tall man but his shoulders were broad and powerful and he radiated the self-assurance of a veteran warrior.

Te Koikoi returned from the whare and, without a word, dropped an old cloak about my shoulders before returning to his place at my cousin’s side.

‘The times are changing for our people, Waikato,’ Hongi said.  ‘Brave, loyal warriors I have in abundance but, when I see the future, I realise that may not be enough.’

I kept my silence – a student warrior, even one of chiefly lineage, does not speak to a leader of such mana without being invited to do so.

‘In a few months’ time, Waikato, you will complete your training and return to your hapu,’ Hongi continued.  ‘I know that Kaihiki is your home and that you will one day be its ariki but, for the next few years, I need you to spend as much time at Rangihoua as you can.’

My heart leapt with excitement.  I had no doubt that, in ordering me to Rangihoua, Hongi must have a mission in mind that reflected my chiefly rank.

‘The Pakeha ships are anchoring at Rangihoua more and more frequently,’ Hongi continued.  ‘I want you to befriend the white men and become fluent in their language.  I’m afraid you’ll find them ill-mannered, dirty and disrespectful – and that they have few interests beyond stealing supplies, whoring and drinking grog.  However, you must ignore that and make friends among them so that they seek you out as their preferred contact whenever they visit Rangihoua.  You will procure for them whatever they desire – as long as they offer a reasonable price in return.’

I almost groaned out loud with dismay.  I was so close to becoming a warrior but, instead, Hongi seemed to want me to become a combination of merchant and whoremaster.

‘I know that this will not be easy for you,’ Hongi said, his dark eyes holding mine with a knowing look, ‘but only through the Pakeha can we acquire steel tools and muskets.  We need the tools to extend our farms and expand our trade – and we need the muskets to protect ourselves from the other tribes.  A race has begun, Waikato, and, if we Ngapuhi do not win it, then we will be trampled beneath the feet of whichever iwi does.  I know that there is little honour in what I’m asking of you but, for the sake of our people, it must be done.’

I saw the flash of teeth in Te Koikoi’s hulking shadow and knew that the big man was amused at my obvious distress.  Despite the repugnance of the duties I was being tasked with however, I saw straight away that Hongi was right.  Indeed, I realised that there was a peculiar sort of honour in being entrusted with such a vital mission and, although I barely knew my cousin at that point, I wondered, even then, why he had specifically chosen me.  It would be months later, after I had returned to Kaihiki, that I would learn that Hongi, even though he already had two wives, had begun to court my older sister.  My cousin was a successful, virile young chief, well able to afford the cost of a third spouse, and Toha was certainly a vivacious, attractive young woman.  More significantly, perhaps, she also presented Hongi with the opportunity of a closer tie with a hapu in the Rangihoua area, a favourite anchorage of the Pakeha ships.  On top of any other qualities he might have believed he saw in me, Hongi had already decided that my impending status as his brother-in-law meant he should be able to trust me more than most.

I knew nothing of this at the time however and, being completely overawed in Hongi’s presence, I don’t believe that I said a single word to him during that first meeting.  I simply nodded my head in humble acceptance of his orders and, after he had dismissed me, I returned to a sleepless night in the dormitory.  A few days later however, Hongi’s story – and, by association, my own extraordinary tale – almost come to a premature end.

Pokaia’s overt reason for a campaign to the south was to seek revenge for the seduction of a Ngapuhi chief’s wife by a Ngati Whatua ariki.  There had, however, been many incidents between the two iwis over the years, any one of which could have provided just cause for utu if required.  I’ve spent a long time searching the Pakeha language for the word that most accurately describes the concept of utu and I believe that “reciprocity” is the closest – gifts must be exchanged, courtesy must be acknowledged and, of course, insults must be avenged.  Utu, therefore, has long provided the tangata whenua – the people of my land – with ample, convenient pretexts for war. 

The morning following my first meeting with Hongi Hika, the Ngapuhi army of over a thousand men and women set off southwards along the beaches of the west coast, plundering the Ngati Whatua settlements and farms as they went.  Our enemies quickly assembled a sizeable force to repel the invasion however, and, having been informed by their scouts that Pokaia’s force was approaching Moremonui – a place where a small stream has carved a gully through the coastal cliffs – the enemy force hid amongst the scrub on the sides of the valley and waited in ambush.  The Ngapuhi were taken completely by surprise and, although they had acquired a few muskets by this time, these weapons proved ineffective in the violent, close-quarters fighting that followed.  A mighty route ensued during which Pokaia, Hotete and two of Hongi’s brothers were among the hundreds of Ngapuhi slain.

With a band of Ngati Whatua warriors in hot pursuit, Hongi, Te Koikoi and Waitapu, who was one of Hongi’s sisters, fled north along the beach.   The enemy toas slowly began to overhaul the Ngapuhi fugitives until Waitapu – who had just seen most of her family’s warrior line wiped out – suddenly whirled about and charged at the pursuing enemy.   Her noble sacrifice enabled Hongi and Te Koikoi to escape into the scrubland behind the coast but, when the pair circled back to the safety of the coastal cliff tops and looked down, they beheld a terrible scene.  Waitapu was already dead but that was not enough for the Ngati Whatua toas, who proceeded to defile her body by cutting out her womb and then filling the cavity with sand.

They called that battle Te Kai a te Karoro – “the Seagulls' Feast” – and, of course, Hongi never forgave the Ngati Whatua for the deaths of so many of his immediate kin and, especially, for the unspeakable insult to his brave sister.  Indeed, he later named his favourite gun Teke TanumiaBuried Vagina – a clear sign that his quest for vengeance would be unceasing.

As consequence of the elimination of most of our iwi’s established leaders however, Hongi’s own ascent as a military leader accelerated and, within a year, he was leading major expeditions against our enemies.  The Ngapuhi muskets might have failed to win the day at Moremonui, but my cousin understood that this was due to poor tactics rather than any lack of effectiveness of the weapons themselves.  He developed new strategies, ensuring that his musketeers were always positioned at such a distance from the enemy that it gave them ample time to reload, and this new style of combat soon began to deliver such devastating results that Hongi gained the appellation, “The Lightning That Destroys Completely”.

Of course, our whole iwi had only twenty or so guns in those days, but the impact of even such a small number firearms in battle reinforced Hongi’s conviction that they were the future of warfare and that, inevitably, the tribe with the most muskets would become the most powerful force in the land.  Consequently, he used his growing influence among our people, particularly with Te Pahi, to implement policies aimed at acquiring as many of the new weapons as possible.  As an example, by the time I returned from Pakinga he had forbidden our unmarried women from dispensing their sexual favours to the visiting Pakeha sailors for free – Hongi was not going to have anything given away for free when it could be used to earn gold to buy muskets.  My cousin also ordered potatoes planted in large quantities on his estates, not so much to sustain his people as to be used to barter for muskets, ball and powder.  He married my sister soon after my return and so, my status elevated by this connection and my loyalty to my cousin assured, I began the unpalatable and degrading task of befriending the Pakeha that visited Rangihoua. 

Because it is located in the northern hook of the Bay of Islands, Rangihoua Bay is conveniently close to the outer coast and, therefore, well-sited to serve the Pakeha ships.  The cove offers good holding ground close to shore, is sheltered from all but the strongest south-easterly gales and a small stream at its eastern end supplies a permanent source of fresh water.  The easily-defended hill overlooking the bay, the rich, fertile soil to the west, and the close proximity of rich fishing grounds have also meant that my people have lived there since the first canoes arrived in Aotearoa.  In all that time, the pa at Rangihoua has never been conquered. 

My people did not have the lucrative Pakeha trade all to themselves however and, from the outset, we have had to compete with Kororareka, a harbour somewhat further inside the Bay of Islands on its southern shores.  Although visiting ships have to sail an extra distance to reach this alternative destination, the inconvenience is somewhat offset by the fact that the harbour there offers shelter from virtually any weather condition.  Moreover, whereas Hongi Hika and Te Pahi had endeavoured to maintain some semblance of order in the burgeoning exchanges between our people and the Pakeha, the chief of Kororareka – a shrewd member of the Ngati Manu hapu by the name of Tara – had allowed the American and English sailors to build a lawless village of drunkenness and sexual depravity on his foreshore.  This shanty town soon became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”, a place where rum-crazed sailors made use of the bodies of women and boys in full public view, where beatings were commonplace, and where murders were seldom investigated.

It may sound harsh, but we knew only two types of Pakeha in those days – whalers and sealers – and these two groups were distinguishable from each other only by the way in which they and their ships smelled.  Among their many common traits were drunkenness, bad manners and a tendency to let fly with their muskets and cannons whenever presented with the spectacle of too many warriors or war canoes in one place at one time.  The Pakeha ships needed supplies however, and the sailors seemed to find our young women – and, occasionally, our young men – irresistibly attractive.

The prospect of befriending such a people – of having to cater to their every whim – was almost more than I could stand but I knew that Hongi’s strategy was sound.  Of course, I knew that if I was to have even a remote chance of being successful in my mission, I needed to learn the Pakeha tongue.  In this endeavour however, I had the very willing assistance of Te Pahi’s son, Matara, who was most eager to relinquish his own role as a negotiator and go-between. 

Matara certainly wasn’t the only one at Rangihoua who could speak English.  Indeed, by that time, the settlement boasted a number of well-travelled residents, some of our young men – sometimes involuntarily – having found berths aboard the increasing numbers of American and British ships that were worked the Southern Fishery.  Te Pahi himself, along with four of his sons, had taken passage to Norfolk Island and then gone on to Port Jackson in New South Wales, where the group had spent three months as guests of the governor of the colony before returning home with many gifts.  Not long after the chiefly family’s return to the Bay of Islands, Te Pahi purchased a passage for Matara on a ship returning to England where, after a long voyage, the young ariki was presented at the royal court and received most graciously by the king.

Significantly, it was also around this time that one of Te Pahi’s nephews – a young man called Ruatara – signed up on a whaler and, after many years and after many adventures of his own, also reached London.

At the same time as my people started to journey out into the world however, a few Pakeha also came to live among us – although they were mainly, it has to be said, mutineers, ex-convicts and ship-jumpers.  I was still away at Pakinga when one such runaway, a man called George Bruce, was allowed to become a resident at Rangihoua and even permitted to receive a full moko.  I never met the man but Te Pahi clearly thought highly of him because he gave him one of his daughters as his wife – the very girl that he had locked away on Te Puna Island.  The couple left the Bay on a whaler within a year though and our paramount chief never saw his daughter again.

A year later, the Venus – a ship that had been captured by mutinying convicts off the coast of Tasmania – dropped anchor at Rangihoua.  Te Pahi, who now considered himself a close friend of the Governor of New South Wales and loyal ally of the King of England, promptly hanged six of the men for their crimes and the remaining mutineers quickly set sail to the south – although not before they had abducted several of our young women.  This event would have further, fateful consequences but, at the time, Te Pahi’s pro-British stance obviously reassured the whalers and sealers so that their ships began visiting his harbour in ever-increasing numbers.

I found that the Pakehas looked like corpses, smelled worse, and were as free with their fists and boots as they were foul of mouth.  I might have learned my first Pakeha words from Matara, but my new clients soon supplied me with many colourful expressions that would shock and horrify the missionaries who later came among us.  I despised them all, but I did my duty and tolerated the abuse of common ruffians that I could have easily killed with a single blow of my mere.  I soon learned to recognise the hungry gleam in their eyes when they thought they had negotiated a cunning trade or when they saw a woman that they wanted and, in no time at all, I had become the grand whoremaster for my people.

Hongi’s recipe for extracting the maximum return from growing commercial activity was simple.  Now, instead of every canoe in the region thronging around each new sailing ship that arrived in the Bay, a single vessel would paddle out to welcome them – mine.  I would bid the captain and his crew welcome, guide their ship to the best anchorage and politely enquire as to their needs.  I would then accompany their shore party back to the beach, and the trade-hungry crowd awaiting them there, where I personally broker each transaction.  Of course, Hongi’s goods or anything supplied by Te Pahi or his family always had first priority and, as the first goods sold, they naturally commanded the best prices.  I would bargain just as hard for all the other transactions though, knowing that before the trader had left the beach, one of Hongi’s men would have extracted from the seller half of whatever price I had agreed.  In those early years, this simple but significant taxation was generally accepted in good spirit by our people.  Even after Hongi’s cut, the return on their trade was still beyond anything they could ever have hoped for beyond the coming of the Pakeha and, besides, I think that everybody felt that Hongi was acting for the greater good of our iwi.  

I commenced my unpalatable duties at Rangihoua in the year 1809 and, within twelve months, I had negotiated services and supplies sufficient to acquire many steel spades and axes, much powder and ball, and a further ten muskets for Hongi’s armoury.  My cousin was well-pleased with my progress and, apart from the Ngati Manu whom he suspected of amassing a similar-sized armoury at Kororareka, he was confident that our iwi now enjoyed a clear military advantage over the other tribes.  To prove his point, he embarked on a series of increasingly-bloody campaigns beyond our borders and, indeed, he was far away to the south on just such an expedition when a British brigantine called the Boyd sailed into Whangaroa Harbour to the north.

The tides of fate were about to turn against us.

The Boyd had sailed across from Port Jackson, intending to take on a cargo of kauri spars and, as chance would have it, she carried aboard her a junior chief of the Ngati Uru, the resident hapu of Whangaroa.  This young man, whose name was Te Ara, had journeyed to Australia some months’ previously and then, desiring to return home, he had signed onto the Boyd to work his passage back to Aotearoa as a seaman.  Once the voyage had begun however, the young chief saw that the tasks he was directed to were beneath the dignity of his rank and so refused the bosun’s orders to carry them out.  Not realising the possible consequences of his actions, the captain of the vessel ordered the young man flogged and denied food.  Fate further conspired against the Boyd in that, while she was only the third Pakeha ship ever to visit Whanagaroa, the vessel that had preceded her six months’ earlier had brought an outbreak of disease that had killed many local people.  

The Ngati Uru, already apprehensive and suspicious of the new arrival, were furious when they learned that the ship’s company had shamed and whipped the son of their chief.  Utu demanded a response and, three days after the Boyd’s arrival, the Ngati Uru, led by their war chief, Te Puhi, attacked en masse.

Seventy men, women and children were massacred – a small number of the crew surviving for a time by climbing high in the ship’s rigging where they could shoot down at the attacking warriors.  By pure and, as it would prove, unfortunate chance, Te Pahi and a small band of his men happened to paddle their canoes into the harbour the next morning on what was meant to be a trading mission.  Appalled by the scene that he encountered, the ariki taungaroa immediately attempted to rescue the survivors but his Whangaroa relatives declared the affair to be none of his business and ordered him away.  Then, as the Ngati Uru toas began to pillage the ship, a musket flint ignited her gunpowder stores and there was a mighty explosion that killed many on board, Maori and Pakeha alike.  The Boyd caught fire, drifted aground and burned to the waterline.

There were only a few English survivors – mainly women taken as captives – but word of the Boyd’s fate swiftly filtered back to the whaling fleet at Kororareka Within two weeks, a vigilante flotilla bent on revenge arrived at Whangaroa where, after some negotiations and some hostage-taking, they were able to recover the female prisoners.  However, despite frank admissions by the Ngati Uru that they were the perpetrators of the massacre, the sailors somehow managed to convince themselves that Te Pahi – not Te Puhi – had been responsible for their countrymen being killed and eaten.  They returned to Kororareka where treacherous old Chief Tara was only too willing to reinforce their misapprehension and, consequently, it was not long afterwards that half a dozen Pakeha vessels ominously approached Rangihoua.  Correctly surmising the reason for the fleet’s appearance, Te Pahi ordered the warning horns sounded and, with great urgency, we warriors all paddled to the pa on Te Puna Island. 

This was my first taste of combat, yet all my hard-learned warrior skills were as farts in a hurricane when the Pakeha ships began their bombardment.  Although the attacking vessels were not warships, they all carried a small number of cannon and our people had not, at that point, learned the value of earthworks.  Cannon ball and grape shot ripped through wooden palisade and living flesh alike with murderous ease and then, when the cannonade finally stopped and we few who had survived it staggered dazed and deafened from the ruins of what had been our fortress, we were met by a withering hail of musket fire.

I ran – ran to the far side of the island, leaped into the water and swam for my life back to the mainland.  So much for my first battle…

Te Pahi, Matara and scores of our finest warriors were killed and, honour satisfied, the Pakehas sailed back to their grog shops and brothels at Kororareka to celebrate.  The Boyd saga marked the beginning of a dark time for Rangihoua though – it would be many years before any white man dared land anywhere in Aotearoa except at Kororareka.

Hongi returned from his expedition to a scene of devastation and, even more upsetting for him, the realisation that the trade that he had so carefully nurtured had been cut off.  I know that he was tempted to take revenge on the people of Whangaroa Harbour but he held off because the perpetrators were closely related to his mother’s whanau.   Indeed, once he learned of the circumstances that had led to the massacre, I think that even he had to accept that the Ngati Uru had had reasonable cause to seek utu.
Nevertheless, Hongi Hika’s plans to make Ngapuhi the pre-eminent tribe of Aotearoa had suffered a serious set-back.

Chapter Two

For two years after the Boyd incident, the whalers and sealers continued to avoid any harbour in Aotearoa other than the one at Kororareka.  Hongi found it difficult to conceal his frustration but, true to form, he was able to vent some of his annoyance through his military campaigns – including several actions in defence of our weakened hapu’s territory in the Rangihoua region.
I must confess that, with the Pakeha ships no longer visited our harbour, I secretly began to hope that I would be relieved of my distasteful duties.  Hongi however, determined not to let his plans be derailed any more than necessary, despatched me to Kororareka to negotiate the trade of our goods there.  If I had found my unwanted task repugnant before, now it seemed that I must wallow in shame as well – the southern harbour being, of course, home base to the very vessels that had bombarded Te Puna and killed many of my people only months beforehand.  Now Hongi had ordered me to slink into the very den of the perpetrators, shake their blood-stained hands, look them in the eye, and try to do business with them.  Still, my cousin had made his expectations very clear and it was not long before I was skippering a canoe full of trading goods southwards.

Although it was a calm and sunny morning when I set off on that first voyage to Kororareka, neither the fine weather nor the hearty chanting of the paddlers could ease my shame or lift my spirits.  We made good time in the light conditions regardless of my dreary mood though, and we soon saw the masts of the Pakeha fleet ahead of us, rising against the southern shores of the Bay land like a stand of fire-blackened forest.  We were still some distance out from the sheltered harbour however, when a large waka taua put out from the pa-crowned headland at the northern end of the bay and paddled rapidly to intercept us.

‘Who would trespass on the territory of the Ngati Manu?’ the war canoe’s skipper bellowed at us once his craft was close enough.

The Ngati Manu waka was twice the size of our own and held three times as many warriors – a half-dozen of whom had laid down their paddles and were now pointing muskets at us.

‘Waikato, first son of Rakau, Ariki of Kaihiki!’ I hailed back.  ‘We come to trade, not to fight.’

‘To trade?’ the Ngati Manu skipper sneered back.  ‘There is no trade here for the Hikutu.’

I told myself that I must find out who this man was so that I could deliver utu upon him at an appropriate time – but I put a pleading expression on my face and raised my hands in supplication.

‘But, Cousin,’ I implored him.  ‘We have not been able to trade with the Pakeha for over a year now.  We need nails and axes.’

‘Then you should make do as you did before the Pakeha came,’ came the unhelpful reply.

‘But our wives demand cloth and beads to make themselves beautiful,’ I said, ‘and they have denied us their affections until these things are provided.’

I had intended these words to lighten the discussion and, indeed, they drew some chuckles from the Ngati Manu crew.   From their commander, however, there was not even a glimmer of amusement.

‘Everyone knows that the Hikutu are so unmanly that they have to buy the affections of their women,’ he said.  ‘Your lack of balls is no concern of ours.’

‘Oh, yes,’ I thought to myself, as his men roared with laughter, ‘one day, I will cut off your testicles and eat them before your dying eyes.’

Aloud I said, ‘But we are all Ngapuhi.  Surely you would not deny your kinsmen?’

There were a few moments’ silence.  I was reasonably sure that many among the Ngati Manu crew would have Hikutu family ties and now I saw several of them exchange meaningful looks.  The Ngati Manu skipper considered this for a few moments.

‘I’ll let Tara make that decision,’ he finally announced.  ‘Follow us to the pa – and don’t try and paddle for the ships!  If you do, you’re all dead men!’

The war canoe set off towards the fortified headland and we duly fell into line astern of her.  Our course took us tantalisingly close by the dozen or so Pakeha ships anchored in the cove though and, beyond their hulls, I could see the twenty or so buildings of the shore settlement.  We landed well north of the town however and, after ordering my men to stay with our canoe, the waka taua’s skipper and two armed men escorted me up the steep trail to the pa gates.  Once inside the walls, I was marched across the marai to a large whare where, without welcome, ceremony or any other form of courtesy, I was abruptly ushered into the presence of Chief Tara.

By this time, all of Rangihoua knew that Tara had played a significant part in reinforcing the Pakehas’ misapprehension that Te Pahi had been responsible for the Boyd Massacre.   As one of the few survivors of this treacherous act, I had more reason than most to despise him but I have to say that, even had I not known him to be such a wicked and deceitful man, I would still have disliked Korareka’s ariki on sight.  Tara was about the same age as Hongi but he seemed somehow older – and considerably fatter.  The chief was reclining on a fine mat along with two women who I presumed to be his wives and, insultingly, he barely looked up, let alone bothered to get to his feet, at my entrance.  He and the two women all wore grubby European clothing and the three of them seemed so lethargic that it occurred to me that, even at such an early stage of the day, they might be drunk.

‘So, it’s Waikato is it?’ Tara said in a bored voice.  ‘I’ve met your father Rakau on a couple of occasions.  I can’t say that he impressed me much on either of them.’

I was speechless at such an insult – but I was also unarmed and mindful of the waka skipper and his two men standing behind me with muskets in their hands and meres in their belts.

‘Well, what brings our country cousins to Kororareka?’ Tara asked in a tone designed to convey complete disinterest.

‘I wish to trade with the Pakeha sailors,’ I said, still struggling to control my temper.

‘Really?’ Tara asked, looking me squarely in the eye for the first time.  ‘After what they did to your people at Te Puna?  It certainly didn’t take you long to forgive and forget, did it?’

‘I certainly won’t be forgiving or forgetting you!’ I thought to myself.

However, even as the words bellowed through my mind, I saw something in Tara’s eyes that made me realise that he was both completely sober and very dangerous.  I clenched my fists so hard that my nails dug into my palms, but I kept my mouth shut.

‘Oh, well,’ Tara said, when he realised I was not going to respond to his taunt, ‘I suppose we could find grouds for cooperation.  Tupe!’

The skipper of the waka taua stepped forward and the target of my future revenge had a name.

‘Brother,’ Tara addressed him, ‘please take one third of the Hikutu goods to my storage house.  Then I want you and your men to take the balance in to the Pakeha town and sell them for whatever price you can get for Waikato here.  He can go along with you but, if he tries to speak directly to any white man, cut his tongue out.  The Hikutu crew are to remain on the beach with their canoe until he returns.’

For a second time I was speechless, Tara’s greed and audacity having literally taken my breath away.

‘You look upset, Waikato,’ Tara said, his amusement obvious.  ‘Surely, it’s not a terribly high commission in the circumstances – and it’s certainly better than not being able to trade at all isn’t it?’

‘Oh, and Tupe?’ he said, turning back to his brother.  ‘No muskets for our Hikutu cousins.’

‘Can’t we at least have powder and ball for the guns we already have?’ I said, finding my voice at last.  ‘We need to be able to hunt.’

Tara gave me a cool, level look but I could see that his mind was elsewhere – calculating future possibilities and assessing options, no doubt.

‘We all know the sort of hunting your cousin Hongi Hika is fond of,’ he eventually said, ‘but, very well, you may trade for powder and ball.  Just remember my generosity in this matter and don’t forget that I have plenty of muskets of my own.’

I expected Hongi to be furious when I returned home and I told him Tara’s terms of trade, but he merely chuckled in a way that was almost approving.
‘That cunning son of a slave didn’t get as fat as he is by being stupid,’ he said.  ‘This way, he makes himself wealthy at our expense and restricts our armoury but, by letting us have powder and shot, he hopes to buy just enough friendship and forgiveness against the day that fortune might favour our side of the Bay again.’

‘A third of our goods in commission!’ I snarled.  ‘I’ll have his head – his and his arrogant arse of a brother’s as well!’

Hongi smiled at my anger and laid a calming hand on my shoulder.
‘Who knows just who our friends and enemies will be in the future, Waikato’ he said.  ‘If the Ngapuhi are ever to march as one people, then all its hapu will need to stand side-by-side.’

At this time, the paramount chief of Hongi’s hapu was his half-brother, Kaingaroa, a large, jolly man who ruled from the pa at Okuratope, near Lake Omapere.  Despite his outwardly-relaxed demeanour, Kaingaroa commanded great loyalty and affection among his people and, although he was no great warrior, neither was he a fool.  It is not unusual among my people for an ariki to delegate military authority to a close and trusted relative and this, of course, was the perfect role for Hongi Hika.  Kaingaroa unreservedly endorsed his brother’s strategies and gave Hongi free reign to conduct such military activities as he saw fit.  

As I have mentioned, when the warrior ranks of both Rangihoua and Kaihiki were decimated by the whalers’ deadly miscarriage of justice, some of the tribes to the north of us saw this as an opportunity to enlarge their territories.  One of my cousin’s first tasks was to drive these intruders back, a mission that he carried out with such speed and savagery that it was clear to all that Rangihoua and Kaihiki were now under his personal protection.  As a consequence, my hapu were able to enjoy a time of relative peace during which we were able to rebuild the pa on Te Puna Island and extend our fields further inland.

I had been a single man up until this time but my status as a bachelor was not to last much longer.  Tukutuku, the daughter of a local chief caught my eye and, after some months of playing hard to get, she consented to be my wife.  She was a strong, fine-looking young woman who, despite her initial inexperience, swiftly developed an enthusiasm for lovemaking that matched my own and, within a year, she had given me a fine son, Ruakino.  I was somewhat distracted from the arrival of the child that I hoped would live to be my successor however for, two days after the arrival of my first-born, Ruatara – rightful heir to Te Pahi, nephew of Hongi Hika and cousin to me – returned home to Rangihoua after seven long years away.

What an extraordinary tale Ruatara had to tell!

He had been just eighteen years old when he had signed up on a sealer and left the Bay to see the world and, although that vessel’s captain cheated him of his wages and left him stranded in Port Jackson, he eventually found berths on various other sealers and whalers and thereby worked his way around the vast Pacific Ocean.  He experienced mighty storms, frequent brutality at the hands of the Pakeha crews and even, on one occasion, being marooned on a desert island for three months. After six years at sea, he managed to work a passage all the way to London where he hoped to meet the king just as his cousin Matara had before him.  He was betrayed by the captain of his vessel once again however, who had him beaten and robbed of his wages.  Dazed and badly injured, Ruatara was put aboard a convict ship bound for New South Wales without having even set foot on English soil.

This was where the young ariki’s story went from the merely extraordinary to the barely credible.

‘I was in a bad way from the beating,’ he told Hongi and me as we sat about my fireside the evening of his return.  ‘Each breath caused great pain and, whenever I coughed, I was bringing up blood. 

‘The weather was awful – snowing when it wasn’t raining – and, although someone had given me an old greatcoat, I had no shoes, gloves or cap.  I don’t think I would have lasted long on the forecastle in that condition but, before our ship had even made it out to the open sea, I was approached by a large Pakeha who was a passenger on board.  I could immediately tell from this man’s garb that he was some sort of tohunga, but you can imagine my astonishment when he greeted me in my own tongue.

"Tena koe!" he greeted me and then, in English, "What is your name?  Are you hurt?"'

Ruatara’s interrogator was none other than the Reverend Samuel Marsden – chaplain, magistrate and owner of vast tracks of land at Port Jackson.  Marsden was also the Pacific agent for the Church Missionary Society and he had, on many occasions, shown warm hospitality to those of our people who had made the voyage to Australia.  Indeed, the very reason for his journey to England had been to plead his case to the CMS for the opening of a mission in New Zealand and, having been successful in this endeavour, he was now returning to Australia accompanied by two of the three men he had chosen to bring the gospel to Aotearoa – William Hall and John King.

There are probably as many different opinions of Samuel Marsden as there are individuals to own them but Te Matene had already shown himself a friend to my people.  One can only imagine the Reverend’s astonishment however, when – after noticing a tattooed, dark-skinned sailor on the forecastle who seemed to be injured – the subject of his solicitude proved to be not only a native New Zealander, but also the nephew of the same Te Pahi who Marsden had once entertained as a guest at Port Jackson.  Te Matene was well aware of that unfortunate leader’s demise and, having a good knowledge of the customs of my people, he must have immediately realised that Ruatara had a strong claim to the paramount chieftainship of the powerful Ngapuhi iwi.  I daresay that the missionary saw the hand of God himself in their barely-believable encounter and, to be fair, who could blame him if he did?

Ruatara was in a bad way at that point though and, had he not been taken below and cared for by Marsden and his colleagues, it is unlikely that he would have survived the voyage.  Due to their ministrations however, the young chief slowly began to recover and, when the ship finally completed the long voyage to New South Wales, Te Matane insisted that Ruatara stay on as a guest at his farm at Parramatta until he was fully well again.  During the months that followed, the ariki learned how to cultivate wheat and corn while, in exchange, he coached Marsden and the other missionaries in the customs and language of my people. 

A third settler selected by Te Matene arrived with his family from England while Ruatara was at Port Jackson – a schoolteacher by the name of Thomas Kendall.  The new missionary proved to be a capable linguist and soon enlisted the young chief’s assistance in the beginning of a Maori-English dictionary, a project that would have far-reaching consequences.

Inevitably however, Ruatara learned of the Boyd massacre and of the terrible events that had followed it.  Realising his duty – and possibly his destiny – he requested that he be allowed to return home and so Te Matene promptly put him on the first available whaler bound for Aotearoa.   Marsden also saw to it that Ruatara was accompanied by a sack of wheat to sow, three horses, two cows, a bull, a pair of pistols and a number of steel farming tools, and so the young man’s return to Rangihoua was a memorable one.

Despite the impressive treasures that he had brought back with him, however, Ruatara met a mixed reception from our kaumatua.  Marsden and his missionaries, still fearful of the situation in New Zealand, had chosen to remain in the safety of Port Jackson and so the young ariki arrived back on his home shore without anyone to corroborate his barely-credible stories of adventure.   Many of our elders regarded Ruatara, his European clothes and his riches, with deep suspicion and they were certainly in no hurry to embrace him as our paramount chief.  Most of Te Pahi’s heirs had died with that unfortunate man at Te Puna however, and the only other surviving prospect was Te Uri-o-Kanae, a junior chief who commanded little respect.  The stage was thus set for Ruatara to pursue his claim to the title of ariki taungaroa.

Ruatra was a tall, good-looking fellow with a dazzling smile and an open, friendly manner, and he quickly abandoned his European garb and set about winning the trust and support of our people.  I had been training at Pakinga when he had set off on his adventures but I had met him on several occasions prior to his departure and remembered him with affection.  Hongi Hika was also fond of Ruatara and, more importantly perhaps, he saw in his nephew’s relationship with the missionaries a means by which our iwi might re-establish trade with the Pakeha.  Consequently, both of us put our support behind the young ariki and, slowly but surely, our people began to accept his right to the paramount chieftainship.  Ruatara reinforced his claim by making a series of politically-useful marriages and, one of these being to my wife’s widowed sister, Rahu, he and I became even more closely-bound.  Thus it was that, whenever Hongi made one of his frequent visits to Rangihoua, I was included in any discussions between my two relatives.

Hongi was determined to learn the Pakeha way and, with typical single-mindedness, he insisted that the three of us converse in English whenever we met together – a policy that not only improved our fluency in the language but which also rendered our discussions confidential from eavesdroppers.  My trading experiences had already given me a rough grounding in the Pakeha tongue but Ruatara, after seven years of speaking nothing else, had become a veritable dictionary of the language.  Hongi would always have difficulty pronouncing the new words but, from the outset, he was able to understand English far better than he was able to speak it – a fact that would catch some Pakehas out in later years.

‘You have been to England, Cousin,’ Hongi said one evening, as the three of us sat before the fire in front of Ruatara’s whare.  ‘Is it true that the Pakeha are as many as the leaves of the forest?’

‘I wasn’t permitted to leave my vessel,’ Ruatara replied, staring into the flames, ‘but, on the wharves beside us and as far into the city as I could see, the English people swarmed like ants.’

‘And their ships?’ Hongi asked.  ‘Are there really so many of them that they are like the schools of kahawai in summer?’

Ruatara nodded.

‘Many hundreds of them,’ he replied.  ‘Thousands, perhaps.’

Hongi was silent for a few moments but, when he spoke again, his words showed that his mind never strayed far from its usual course.

‘They must have many cannons,’ he growled, ‘and many muskets.’
‘More than can be imagined,’ Ruatara confirmed.

There was a much longer silence while Hongi digested this.

‘And the missionaries who cared for you – they wish to come and live among us?’ he eventually asked.

‘One day – but I don’t know when that might be,’ Ruatara replied.
‘Tell me again why they would come,’ Hongi said.

‘They want to teach us to worship their god, Jesus.’

Ruatara had already described his understanding of the Christian faith to us on several occasions and Hongi had swiftly formed the opinion that it was “a good religion for slaves”.  However, if it meant re-opening trade with the Pakeha, especially for muskets, my older kinsman was prepared to exhibit religious tolerance.

‘If they build schools and bring knowledge and trade, then we should let them teach us about Jesus,’ he said.  ‘The important thing is that they come here to Rangihoua and nowhere else.  Can we send them a message that they will be welcome here and that we will protect them?’

‘Of course,’ Ruatara told him.  ‘I will go to Kororareka with Waikato on his next trip.  I’ll find a ship returning to Port Jackson and send a message back with her captain.’

Fortunately, Tara had no objection to this and Ruatara’s message was duly despatched.  For more than a year however, there was no reply of any kind.

While we waited, Ruatara tried to introduce the cultivation of wheat to our people.  He was unable to elicit much enthusiasm for the project however and, apart from his own fields, his progress was minimal.  Hongi was having a similarly frustrating time with his military operations, particularly after he had marched off with the main force of his warriors to a campaign in the northwest.  While they were away, an iwi allied to his enemy circled around to the south and successfully attacked and sacked his pa at Pakinga.  Hongi immediately responded with a series of retaliatory raids, of course, but he was mortified that his home and hitherto impregnable stronghold had been taken so easily.

In the meantime, the Pakeha ships continued to avoid our shores and I continued my trading at Kororareka.  Hongi had asked me to increase my volumes in order to compensate for Tara’s extortionate terms and so I began voyaging further and further afield in search of desirable commodities – to the many settlements inside the Bay, up and down the outside coast and even out to some of the offshore islands.  After a while I found that, if I bargained hard enough with the sellers in the more remote locations, I was usually able purchase goods at a price that offset Tara’s tax.  My tough wheeling and dealing began to make me unpopular with the other hapus however and their manner towards me became increasingly surly and disrespectful.  Indeed, on one particular occasion, the chief of some small islands became so angry during our negotiations that he ordered me off his land, summoning his warriors to enforce my ejection.  I was furious, of course, and added his name to the growing list of people I would one day visit my vengeance upon.  The event made me realise however, that the longer I continued with my trading duties, the more my mana and my reputation would suffer.  I had heard the names they called me behind my back – “Hongi’s arse-licker”, “Hongi’s shit-eater” – and I was becoming increasingly impatient to prove myself as a warrior and as a worthy ariki to my people.  Hongi seemed sympathetic when I begged him to find somebody to replace me – but he was not going to be swayed from his strategy.

‘There is no one else who can do what you are doing for me,’ he told me.  ‘I need you to be strong.’

‘I want to be strong as a warrior!’ I railed.  ‘This task you have set me weakens my mana.’

Hongi placed a consoling hand on my shoulder.

‘I understand,’ he told me, ‘but what you are doing for me is more important than any battle you could ever fight for me with a taiaha – and it won’t be forever.’

‘When then?’ I snarled.  ‘When can I stop?’

‘That is something that I can’t tell you,’ was his honest but unhelpful reply.

Then, one fine winter’s day, fully two years after Ruatara’s return, a schooner sailed purposefully into Rangihoua Bay and anchored close to shore.

There was great excitement in our village at the arrival of the Pakeha vessel and, with no doubt in his mind as to the identity of the visitors, Ruatara immediately sent a messenger to Pakinga advising Hongi that the missionaries had finally arrived.  Mindful of the fearsome reputation of our people, he also issued orders that most of our hapu were to remain within the village confines so that, as the Pakehas’ longboat detached from the mother vessel and cautiously approached the shore, we were an insultingly-small party that waited to welcome it.

Ruatara must have hoped that Te Matene himself would be aboard the longboat but, as we would later learn, the governor of New South Wales had forbidden his magistrate to undertake what he believed to be a risky expedition.   Nevertheless, as the craft neared the beach, we spied two black-cassocked Pakehas aboard her who were immediately distinguishable from the rough crew at the oars and one of them, obviously recognising Ruatara, smiled and called out his name.

The first missionaries had arrived in Aotearoa.

Both clergymen promptly leaped ashore as soon the boat’s keel grounded, warmly greeting Ruatara like an old friend.  Then the younger of the two produced a letter which, in English, he began to read aloud in a clear, confident voice.  It was a communique from Te Matene, of course, announcing that his emissaries, William Hall and Thomas Kendall, had come to New Zealand to find a place to build a Christian mission.  Once they had chosen the location of their settlement, they would teach the local children to read and their parents to build houses and grow crops.

I knew that these worthy objectives did not quite complete the list that Hongi had in mind, but I had no doubt that my older cousin would be delighted that the missionaries had finally made landfall – and that they had chosen our territory in which to do so.  I furtively watched the younger man as he read the letter, marvelling at his dark red hair and his pale, almost translucent skin.  His companion possessed a more weathered continence and I saw that, apart from when he looked at Ruatara, he was inclined to wear the same sort of scowl as the Pakeha sailors usually did when they came amongst us.  From that early beginning, it was obvious to me that the two missionaries were quite different people and, even then I think, it was evident that they were not close friends.

Ruatara had known both men in Port Jackson, of course, and after Thomas Kendall had finished reading Marsden’s letter, he addressed both missionaries in English, declaring them very welcome.  He then introduced me and, as I shook hands with them, I also greeted them politely in their own language – an act that seemed to both astonish and delight them.  Next, Ruatara begged to be allowed to show them about his domain, an invitation that the missionaries readily accepted.  Thus, leaving the sailors behind with their longboat, our small party escorted the pair up the steep, zigzag trail towards the pa.

It was an odd sort of welcome that one.

Normally, such important guests would be received onto the marae with a powhiri, a welcoming ceremony involving much dancing, much singing and speech-making.  Ruatara had waited too long to risk frightening our new associates with such a display however, and so he had sent a man ahead ordering his people to keep to their whares.  We thus escorted our guests into our seemingly-deserted kainga in an eerie silence, unbroken as Ruatara proudly showed them our Wharenui – our meeting house – and the other features of the settlement.  Following this brief tour, the missionaries accepted my young cousin’s offer of a visit to the kumara, potato and wheat estates that he maintained several miles inland.  At that point, had either man been a farmer, he might well have asked Ruatara why our fields were located so far away from our village and not down on the level land close to the beach.  Neither of them did however – something I’m sure that they later regretted.

It was almost sunset by the time that, with reassurances that they would come back again the next day, the missionaries returned to their ship, the Active.  Hongi arrived on foot at the head of a hundred warriors just as their longboat was crossing the bay and, understandably distressed that he had missed the visit he had waited for so long, he asked his nephew if he could borrow his waka taua – the magnificent war canoe that had once belonged to TePahi – so that he could have his men paddle him out to bid the visitors welcome.  Ruatara however, was inclined to be cautious. 

‘The Pakehas might not understand such an honour,’ he warned Hongi.  ‘The Active might sail away in fear or, worse, run out her cannons.  The missionaries have promised to return tomorrow and I am sure that they will do as they say.’

Hongi allowed himself to be persuaded although he prudently ordered some of his men to keep an all-night watch on the Active, just in case the ship tried to slip away after dark.  We three then retired to Ruatara’s fireside to share a meal and discuss our plans for the next day, my two cousins each having quite different views as to how the missionaries’ return should be welcomed.

Unsurprisingly, Hongi wanted to demonstrate his esteem for our visitors by welcoming them onto the marae with a powhiri.  In this ceremony, our full warrior force forms ranks and vigorously performs the haka.  Then our three most ferocious toas advance towards the visitors, giving the wero – the most intimidating challenge they can muster – before laying a token at their feet.  The only one way to survive such a welcome is to look the lead warrior in the eye and to take up the offering.  To leave it where it lies is a deadly insult – and to turn away at any time is an invitation for a taia between the shoulder blades.  

‘But these men might not understand the honour being shown them,’ Ruatara reasoned with his uncle.  ‘They are the priests of such a meek god.’

‘But if we do not show them the appropriate courtesy, they may be insulted,’ Hongi replied, appalled at the prospect of offending such important guests.

‘Yet, if we do, they might take fright and order their sailors to fire their muskets at us,’ Ruatara retorted.

Hongi fell silent and I knew that Ruatara had won the argument, the prospect of two, possibly-offended missionaries being considerably more attractive than that of a terrified landing party of sailors blazing away with muskets.  Consequently, when the longboat brought Mr Kendall and Mr Hall back to shore the next morning, it was again an embarrassingly small party that waited to meet them – albeit one that, this time, included Hongi Hika.  Then, as the missionaries stepped ashore and Ruatara began to introduce Hongi, my cousin took everybody by surprise by stepping forward, taking the younger man gently and firmly by the shoulders and greeting him with a hongi.

Most Pakeha believe that the hongi is about rubbing noses – and it is true that the closest translation of that word in English is “to smell”.   To greet someone with a hongi however, goes far beyond merely touching noses and smelling each other.  It is a sharing of breath and, in performing this ritual, the participants thereby share a small part of each other’s soul.

I saw Kendall flinch as Hongi Hika brought his face close to his but then, as the two men’s noses and foreheads came gently together, the young missionary relaxed and closed his eyes with something akin to reverence.  Ruatara later told me that he had forewarned the missionaries about our custom while he was at Port Jackson but, nevertheless, I liked the way Kendall responded to my cousin’s greeting.  By comparison, when Hongi greeted Mr Hall in the same manner, the older man was unable to conceal a fleeting expression of revulsion.

Hongi then released the older man, stepped back, gave a little bow and said ‘How do you do?’ in his very best English.

Knowing that this was the first time Hongi had ever addressed a Pakeha in his own language, my heart swelled with pride at his bravery.  His words certainly appeared to have the desired effect on the missionaries though, even Mr Hall’s sour visage seeming to brighten.  Indeed, I believe that Hongi Hika made a splendid first impression that day and that, already, our views of each other as a people had begun to change.  The Pakeha missionaries could see that we were not quite the bestial, violent Slaves of Satan that we were reputed to be and, for our part, I think we began to appreciate that not all Pakeha were drunken oafs bent on cheating us for supplies, fornicating with our young women and stealing our young men for crew.

Over the next few days, Hongi, Ruatara and I continued to show Thomas Kendall and William Hall around Rangihoua and its surroundings and, of course, we repeatedly expressed the desire that they and their families should come to live with us.  We also sought to convince them that the incidences of bad behaviour by our people towards Pakeha over the preceding years were more than outweighed by the many acts of barbarism perpetrated by members of their own race.  I believe that Thomas Kendall even began to see the Boyd massacre – the event that had so recently horrified the CMS – as a misguided act of retaliation and not the senseless explosion of violence that most Pakeha viewed it as. 

In this respect, Kendall had already begun to show himself very different to any other of his people that we had encountered to that point.  From the very first, he seemed to strive to understand us and I think that he quickly saw that our rites, traditions and ceremonies were just as complex and meaningful to us as the Pakehas’ own ways were to them.  Indeed, after a week with us, Kendall actually felt comfortable enough to stay ashore overnight, sleeping in Ruatara’s whare with the chief and his wives.  That same night however, Hongi and I were sitting up late by the fire outside my dwelling at Kaihiki, discussing the Pakeha missionaries.

‘Tamihana is the one,’ Hongi told me – for that was the name he had already given Kendall.  ‘If the missionaries come to live among us, Tamihana Kenara is the one who will be our true friend.’

‘What about the other one?’ I asked – William Hall had elected to return to the Active for the evening.

‘He is like all the other Pakeha,’ Hongi said.  ‘He looks at what we have and sees only what he can take.  He is a hard man and I do not think that he will ever find it in his heart to love us as much as Tamihana already does.’

By this stage, I knew Hongi well enough to know that there was more to it than that.

‘Why else do you prefer Thomas?’ I asked.

Hongi chuckled and patted me approvingly on the shoulder. 

‘The Hikutu are a shrewd hapu,’ he said.

You can see, Waikato, that Tamihana is a very different person to Mr Hall.  In fact, I don’t think that either man cares much for the other.  If the missionaries do come here to live, Thomas will eventually look to us for friendship.  Mr Hall might say the right words, but his kind will always have a closed door to men of brown skin.’

The darkness couldn’t hide my own smile.

Our Pakeha guests had been quite open about the Church Missionary Society’s strategy for New Zealand – that, once we had been introduced to and educated in the practices of the civilised world, our people would inevitably convert to Christianity.  I’m sure that it never occurred to them that we simple, native souls would be anything but grateful and I wondered how they would have felt had they realised that, even at that early stage, Hongi had already begun to weave them into his own master plan…

The next morning however, Hongi, Ruatara and I were surprised and dismayed when Mr Kendall and Mr Hall announced that the Active was to weigh anchor and set sail for Kororareka.

‘But Kororareka is an evil place!’ Ruatara exclaimed.

‘Nevertheless, we must go there to offload our goods and to pick up a cargo of flax,’ Kendall said.

‘But we have flax here,’ Hongi said helpfully.

‘Our flax consignment already awaits us at Kororareka,’ Mr Hall replied with a smirk.  ‘Besides, we have aboard our vessel a young Maori gentleman called Tuai who comes from that area.  He has been Reverend Marsden’s guest at Port Jackson for several months but now he is returning home to visit his brother, Chief Korokoro.’

I have heard the Pakeha refer to such announcements as “bombshells” and, having seen a shell explode, I must say that it is a very appropriate term.  Hongi and Ruatara’s faces may have been expressionless but I knew that, like mine, their hearts would have turned to stone at William Hall’s words.

We vaguely knew of Tuai but we had not been aware that, like our own Te Pahi and Ruatara, the young man had made the journey to Port Jackson.  His brother, Korokoro, on the other hand, was all too familiar to us as paramount chief of the Ngare Raumati, an iwi from the south-eastern corner of the Bay with whom we Ngapuhi were frequently in conflict.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the two brothers were also close relatives of Tara, the sly and slimy ariki of Kororareka.  Our missionaries, whose arrival we had looked forward to for so long, had arrived among us carrying a deadly enemy.

Thomas then mollified us somewhat by announcing, ‘After we pick up our cargo, we will return to Rangihoua before leaving for Port Jackson.  We would like you to accompany us back to New South Wales as the Reverend Marsden’s guests.’

This invitation may have partially allayed our concerns but, nevertheless, it was with some anxiety that Ruatara, Hongi and I watched the Active weigh anchor and head south-west.

‘The Ngare Raumati – of all iwi!’ Ruatara muttered. 

‘And that sleazy whoremaster, Tara, will whisper in the missionaries’ ears and try to take them away from us,’ I added.

Hongi, however, was inclined to be more optimistic.

‘I don’t think that the missionaries will settle at Kororareka,’ he said, staring after the rapidly diminishing sails of the Active.

Ruatara and I both looked at him in surprise.

‘What makes you say that?’ Ruatara asked.

Hongi smiled.

‘They’ve said that they intend to return to Aotearoa with their families,’ he said.  ‘Can you imagine a gentle man like Mr Kendall exposing his wife and children to the sort of behaviour that is commonplace at Kororareka?’

Somewhat reassured by Hongi’s words, we awaited the missionaries’ return and, when the Active duly reappeared in our bay a week later, we paddled expectantly out to greet her.  To our dismay, however, we came on board to be greeted, not just by Hall and Kendall, but also by the tattooed, scowling faces of Korokoro and Tuai.  The Ngare Raumati brothers, the missionaries informed us, would be returning to Port Jackson along with us.

In the many years that have passed since that voyage, I have learned to see the humorous side of the situation.  There was nothing amusing about at the time though, and I don’t think that Kendall or Hall had any idea of what they had done.  When the Active set sail from the Bay of Islands in that late July of 1814, she carried aboard her delegations from two tribal groups that had been at war with each other for countless generations.  On the Ngapuhi side, there was Ruatara, Hongi Hika, myself, another junior chief called Ponahu, Hongi’s manservant, Te Nana, and Hongi’s eight year-old son, Repero.  The Ngare Raumati contingent consisted of only two men – Korokoro and Tuai – but both of them were high-ranking arikis and the former was a notable war leader.  Had any one of us from one side unexpectedly encountered the other in the forest, the larger part of our conversation would have been conducted with taiaha and mere – and would have concluded with the victor eating at least part of the loser.  Now however, beneath the benign gaze of the missionaries for whose favour we were competing, an unspoken truce came into being, the two factions treating each other with a level of courtesy and good manners completely opposed to their real feelings.  Below decks though, once we were sure that there were no Pakeha ears to hear, the insults and threats flew like darts. 

Both missionaries had made efforts to improve their knowledge of te reo during their time at Rangihoua and, early on in the voyage, it became clear that Mr Kendall was determined to advance work on the Maori-English dictionary that he had begun with Ruatara at Port Jackson.  In accordance with the objectives of the CMS, he also intended to help all of us to improve our spoken English and, ultimately, to read and write in that language.  Thus, on each day of that four-week voyage back to Port Jackson, Tamihana conducted classes in these last two skills employing, I suspect, much the same techniques that he had used when a teacher in England.

I have learned the Pakeha tongue well – indeed, I’ve been told many times that I speak English better than most Englishmen – but I’ve never had much interest in the language in its written form.  Hongi, on the other hand, immediately saw the benefit of being able to access the vast world of information that lay within the pages of books and, unlike most of us on that voyage, he wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to learn to do so.  I have no doubt that he found it demeaning to sit alongside his own young son, learning to write with pencil and paper like a child, but he applied himself so earnestly to the task that, within four days of leaving Rangihoua, he had produced his first copy of the alphabet.  Of the rest of us, only Korokoro consented to attend the reading and writing classes – probably more motivated by a sense of competition with Hongi than anything else – but he soon found the studies too arduous and abandoned that particular battle to my cousin.

While Hongi was immersing himself in his English studies however, I was taking great enjoyment from my first voyage aboard a Pakeha ship.  The construction and rigging of the huge sailing vessels had always fascinated me and now, as the days rolled slowly by, I was able to learn more about these marvellous craft and how they worked.  In this, I was ably instructed by Ruatara who, after all his years at sea, had a great knowledge of ships and seamanship that he was willing to pass on to me.

I was particularly intrigued by the activity of the schooner’s skipper, Captain Dillon, who, each dawn and sunset – and several times during the day – would appear at the quarterdeck rail holding a delicate machine of brass, lenses and mirrors.  He seemed to use this to look at the stars at twilight and at the sun during the day and, on each occasion, he would be accompanied by a crew member holding a little wooden box who would studiously write figures in a small notebook whenever Dillon bellowed ‘Mark!’  At one point, peeking over this assistant’s shoulder, I saw that, inside the box, an exquisite brass device with a glass face lay swaddled in a bed of felt.  

Ruatara explained to me that the captain’s instrument was called a sextant and that, during the day, he used it to measure the angle between the sun and the horizon, the same being true for the moon and stars at night at dusk.  The device in the box was, of course, a clock and, by combining the altitude of the heavenly bodies with the time recorded by his assistant, Captain Dillon was somehow able to ascertain where he was on the open sea and whether or not he needed to adjust his course.

As a chief from a priestly line, I felt a strong affinity with this process – after all, navigating by the stars is something that my people have done since ancient times.  Indeed, when our ancestors sailed from their homeland of Hawaiiki to Aotearoa, a voyage lasting many weeks, it was my direct forbears who were responsible for ensuring accurate navigation and a timely landfall.  Of course, once our people settled in New Zealand, the vastness and richness of the new land meant there was no longer any need for such long ocean voyages and so we stopped building the huge, double-hulled canoes that such journeys required.  I was still taught the basic principles of celestial navigation as a youth however and I can still picture a simple star chart in my mind.

A week or so into our voyage therefore, I decided to discuss and compare navigation techniques with Captain Dillon and, having duly waited for him to finish his magic with his sextant, I approached him to request that I might look at his instrument more closely.  His reaction took me by surprise – even though it was much the same as I had come to expect from most Pakeha seamen.

‘Get out of my way, you black bastard!’ he snarled, shoving me so that I was caught off-balance and staggered backwards.

For a moment I was stunned by his affront – but then I reached for my mere.  No one has the right to touch a chief in such a way and I would have been entirely justified in dashing Dillon’s brains out.  Before I could do so however, Thomas Kendall thrust himself between us and, for the first time, I saw our missionary lose his temper.

‘What are you doing?’ he thundered at the captain.  ‘This man is a chief and his body is sacred!’

‘They’re all chiefs!’ Dillon bellowed back.  ‘I’ve yet to meet one of these damned niggers that doesn’t fancy himself as some lord of this or that!’

‘These men are my guests and you should remember your place!’ Kendall bellowed.  ‘I insist that you apologise!’

This was too much for a man like Dillon.

‘I’ll apologise to this black bastard – and you – when you’ve both gone to Hell!’ he roared and, to my astonishment, he produced a pistol from inside his jacket and pointed it at Kendall’s chest.

By this stage, the confrontation had caught the attention of everybody on deck, all of whom next witnessed Kendall step forward, seize the barrel of Dillon’s weapon with one hand and deal him a mighty blow to the face with the other.  The mariner staggered backward with a roar, blood pouring from his nose, and, being the larger of the two men, he would surely have beaten Kendall severely had not the missionary now gained possession of the pistol.

‘I’ll give your toy back when we get to Port Jackson,’ Tamihana snarled, brandishing the gun at its owner.  ‘In the meantime, if you treat any of my guests as you did Chief Waikato here, I’ll blow your damned brains out!’

The contingent of tangata whenua immediately withdrew to a conference below decks – one that even Korokoro and Tuai were invited to attend.

‘Our missionary is not the meek priest we thought him to be,’ Hongi said, stating the obvious.

‘Most Pakehas are like Dillon,’ Korokoro said.  ‘They have no manners or respect for men of chiefly lineage.  Kororareka is full of them!’

This certainly agreed with the observations I had made during my visits to the settlement.

‘Waikato was lucky that Tamihana was there to protect him,’ Tuai said with a smirk.

Once more I reached for my mere – but Hongi stilled me with a look and a barely-perceptible shake of his head.

‘When we return home, we will see who has to protect whom!’ I hissed at Tuai.

‘The day cannot come soon enough,’ he growled back.  

‘Tamihana has shown his true heart,’ Hongi said, ignoring our exchange.  ‘He is the first Pakeha I have met that I truly trust.’

‘If there are more like him, then it will be good for the missionaries to come to our land,’ Ruatara agreed.

Thomas won his place in the hearts of all of us through his actions that day and, for the first time, I began to think that relations with the Pakeha in the future might not be as one-sided as they had been in the past.  I also thought that, if this young missionary was so different to other white men, what must his leader, Samuel Marsden, be like?

I was about to find out.